OPINION: Match point: Serena Williams and Black Lives Matter
"You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise." - An excerpt from _Still I Rise _by Maya Angelou and the poem that Serena Williams recited before she hopped on to centre court on Saturday to win her 7th Wimbledon title. Fitting.
Arguably the best tennis player of all time, Williams has never shied away from taking a strong stance on several things: sexism, body shaming, racism to name a few - unlike Beyoncé, who was in Williams's box and formed part of the slay-squad. In fact, Anna Wintour - the whitest woman in the world - was booted from that spot in the players' box after having sat in that seat throughout the tournament so that Bey and Jay could watch the play.
Williams's 22nd grand slam triumph means that she is now tie with Steffi Graf at the top of the list of most majors held in the open era. But the meaning of her match was more than just a record-breaking moment in tennis and for a black tennis player (I don't want to point out the fact that she was a woman here, because even Williams prefers to go down in history as the greatest athlete of all time as opposed to the greatest female athlete - specifically).
Slayrena, as she is now known among her massive following, is as mentally strong and assertive off the court as she is on. Journalists have often had shade thrown at them - nay - massive oak trees and eye rolls - when faced with one of her punchy and politically accurate responses. Not unlike any opponent who has ever faced her on court I'm sure. I, for one, would have the nervous sh*ts all day if I were to interview her or play her.
Now, I love, respect and appreciate Bey for a variety of reasons. But I do think she is an android. Other than her reactionary statement infused music (Formation and Flawless featuring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are perfect examples), she often is not publicly vocal, opinionated and really lacks any kind of human trait at all, IMO. To further perpetuate this notion, I was more interested in whether she would actually show some sign of life or excitement during her viewing of the match than the actual match itself. Negative. In fact, I'm still wondering if she really knows that Williams won, coz damn Bey. We know you're not on stage, but give a sister summing?
What follows is probably going to seem like a bit of an esoteric stretch, but bear with me. You can hate this string of logic when you're done reading this.
If we denote the semiotic codes, this match was significant. It seemed like every aesthetic factor lent itself to the creation of meaning. It came at a time where the discourse on Black Lives Matter is top of mind (as it should remain, for a long time) because of the lethal shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in the US last week - just about the only incident that has ever made Beyoncé a person with an identity and opinion outside of black female powerhouse performer (respect).
It gave her a political voice in real time, instead of what I often feel is reactionary "controversial" music.
"We don't need sympathy. We need everyone to respect our lives … These robberies of lives make us feel helpless and hopeless but we have to believe that we are fighting for the rights of the next generation. This is a fight for anyone who feels marginalised, who is struggling for freedom and human rights … The war on people of colour and all minorities needs to be over."
Post fatal shooting incidents, Beyoncé posted that statement on her website. She also urged fans to contact politicians, legislators and representation. She provided links on her website to congress and encouraged people to voice their protest on behalf of Sterling and Castile.
Her strong statement turns songs like Formation into function. It turns Lemonade back into lemons. The citrus fruit representative of adversity and misfortune, instead of a sweet drink filled with optimism. And then, there, as Beyoncé watched history unfold before her, Williams made more than a match point. She made her play a protest and her greatness proof. Black lives do matter.
The photo posted by Beyoncé on her Facebook page after Serena Williams won Wimbledon 2016.
They matter because they should be free to be powerful instead of powerless. They matter because they are f**king valid and the whole protest is valid and it should not be devalued by making this a human issue. It is not a human issue. It is an issue that affects a race who historically and systemically have been set up to fail. Actively and passively. The Black Lives Matter conversation matters because we exist in societies who treat these very lives as if they don't.
I have been watching Wimbledon since I was old enough to know what I was watching. Which is probably really young, because I am incredibly smart obviously. It's a massive Dawjee tradition. But even the broadcast for this match was the first of its kind. I quickly picked up that the cameras were making a concerted effort to pan across more black spectators. Creating the effect of racial diversity in Wimbledon spectatorship. Also adding substance to the creation of this political meaning - even if it was metaphorically.
And FYI: Trust me, Wimbledon seats are almost always reserved for Lemony Snickets-looking old white uncles and wannabe dowager countesses of Grantham in pseudo-Downton Abby fashion (meets Eastenders-chic of course).
As an aside, Dame Maggie Smith - the actual dowager - was fan-girling Venus Williams hard when she watched her play her semi-final the other day.
And in the words of the countess herself, "All this endless thinking. It's very overrated". Perhaps … re: this piece and semiotics and Williams and Bey and Black Lives Matter. But they do. And Williams's win is a powerful political protest that proves that.
"Out of the huts of history's shame
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise." - An excerpt from _Still I Rise _by Maya Angelou
Game. Set. Match.
_Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for impactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment. Follow her on Twitter: @sageofabsurd _